Decision Before Dawn (1952)

119-120 mins | Drama | January 1952

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HISTORY

The working titles of this film were Legion of the Damned and Call It Treason . Although an Aug 1950 Var news item announced that the studio had received special allowance from the MPAA/PCA to use the word "damned" in the title, a Dec 1950 Var article reported that the title had to be changed anyway due to German protests. Director Anatole Litvak reported that "it had been impossible to convince the German press and public that the...title [ Legion of the Damned ] did not refer at all to the German people."
       Before the picture's opening credits, a written acknowledgment states: "This motion picture was filmed in its entirety in Europe, where the story actually took place. 20th Century-Fox expresses its appreciation to the United States Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as to the Armed Forces of France, without whose generous cooperation this film could not have been made." Before the picture begins, another written prologue reads: "This story is true---the names of the people have been changed to protect those who survived, but the basic incidents took place only a few years ago in these same ruins, left as tragic reminders of the regime which brought suffering to the world and destruction to its own country." The film opens and closes with voice-over narration by Richard Basehart, as "Lt. Dick Rennick," who philosophizes about the nature of treason and postulates that no man is lost as long as he is remembered.
       A condensed version of George Howe's Christopher Award-winning novel was published in Dec 1948. A 10 Dec 1950 NYT article reported ... More Less

The working titles of this film were Legion of the Damned and Call It Treason . Although an Aug 1950 Var news item announced that the studio had received special allowance from the MPAA/PCA to use the word "damned" in the title, a Dec 1950 Var article reported that the title had to be changed anyway due to German protests. Director Anatole Litvak reported that "it had been impossible to convince the German press and public that the...title [ Legion of the Damned ] did not refer at all to the German people."
       Before the picture's opening credits, a written acknowledgment states: "This motion picture was filmed in its entirety in Europe, where the story actually took place. 20th Century-Fox expresses its appreciation to the United States Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as to the Armed Forces of France, without whose generous cooperation this film could not have been made." Before the picture begins, another written prologue reads: "This story is true---the names of the people have been changed to protect those who survived, but the basic incidents took place only a few years ago in these same ruins, left as tragic reminders of the regime which brought suffering to the world and destruction to its own country." The film opens and closes with voice-over narration by Richard Basehart, as "Lt. Dick Rennick," who philosophizes about the nature of treason and postulates that no man is lost as long as he is remembered.
       A condensed version of George Howe's Christopher Award-winning novel was published in Dec 1948. A 10 Dec 1950 NYT article reported that Howe's novel was based on his own experiences in the O.S.S. during World War II. The article also noted that Litvak had visited the parents of the real-life "Karl Maurer," and that they "were rather depressed by the failure of the Americans to treat them better in reward for the martyrdom of their son." Information in the Twentieth Century-Fox Records of the Legal Department, located at the UCLA Arts--Special Collections Library, reveals that the character of "Rudolf Barth" was also based on a real person, and that at the time of production, he was living in Mannheim.
       According to HR news items, production on the film, which was to begin on 18 Sep 1950, was delayed first by bad weather in Germany, and then by Litvak's involvement in an automobile accident and a bout of pneumonia. Contemporary sources note that filming was temporarily disrupted when the Mayor of Würzburg protested the depiction of the bombing of his city, but the situation was rectified when Litvak submitted a synopsis of the story to German censors. A Nov 1950 HR news item stated that French actress Dominque Blanchar, who is billed fifth in the American version of the film, would receive star billing when the picture was released in France and Belgium.
       As noted by the onscreen credits and studio publicity, the film was shot entirely on location in Europe, including a number of German cities such as Munich, Würzberg, Nuremberg and Mannheim. The legal files add that some sequences were shot at the Bavaria Film Studios in Geiselgasteig, a town just South of Munich. According to several contemporary news items, the studio had to obtain permission for the shoot from numerous government agencies, including the Allied High Commission, the German Federal Government and the Bavarian State Government. According to a Dec 1951 HR advertisement for the picture, the U.S. Air Force cooperated in filming the aerial bombardment sequences, and local citizens were forewarned via radio and newspaper announcements before battle scenes were shot so that they would not become alarmed.
       The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture, but lost to M-G-M's An American in Paris . Decision Before Dawn also received an Oscar nomination for Best Editing and marked the first American film of both Oskar Werner and Klaus Kinski. Werner did not appear in another American-produced picture until the 1965 Columbia release Ship of Fools (see AFI Catalog of Feature Films, 1961-70 ). According to a 1965 NYT interview with Werner, Decision Before Dawn "wasn't shown in Germany for two more years [after its U.S. release] and then only on the strength of my stage Hamlet ." A Sep 1951 Chicago Sunday Tribune article reported that Litvak was in Europe preparing a German language version of the picture, scripted by Carl Zuckmeier, but the existence of another verison of the film has not been confirmed. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
American Cinematographer
1 Feb 52
pp. 62-63, 83-84.
Box Office
22 Dec 1951.
---
Chicago Sunday Tribune
30 Sep 51
p. 3, 12
Daily Variety
19 Dec 51
p. 3.
Film Daily
19 Dec 51
p. 6.
Hollywood Citizen-News
25 Jun 1951.
---
Hollywood Reporter
28 Feb 50
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
24 Jul 50
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
18 Sep 50
p. 3.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Oct 50
p. 5.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Oct 50
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
2 Nov 50
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
6 Nov 50
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
4 Dec 50
p. 4.
Hollywood Reporter
15 Dec 50
p. 17.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Mar 51
p. 1, 12
Hollywood Reporter
7 May 51
p. 2.
Hollywood Reporter
17 Dec 51
pp. 7-18.
Hollywood Reporter
19 Dec 51
p. 3.
Life
17 Dec 1951.
---
Los Angeles Times
22 Dec 1951.
---
Motion Picture Daily
19 Dec 1951.
---
Motion Picture Herald Product Digest
22 Dec 51
p. 1161.
New York Times
10 Dec 1950.
---
New York Times
22 Dec 51
p. 12.
New York Times
13 Jan 1952.
---
New York Times
25 Jul 1965.
---
New Yorker
5 Jan 1952.
---
Time
24 Dec 1951.
---
Variety
9 Aug 1950.
---
Variety
22 Nov 1950.
---
Variety
27 Dec 1950.
---
Variety
19 Dec 51
p. 6.
CAST
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
And the following members of the United States Armed Forces--European Command:
+
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
PRODUCERS
WRITER
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
ART DIRECTORS
Art dir
Prod des
FILM EDITOR
Film ed
COSTUMES
MUSIC
PRODUCTION MISC
Loc prod mgr
Asst unit mgr
Dial coach
Dial coach
Dial coach
SOURCES
LITERARY
Based on the novel Call It Treason by George Howe (New York, 1949).
AUTHOR
DETAILS
Alternate Titles:
Call It Treason
Legion of the Damned
Release Date:
January 1952
Premiere Information:
Los Angeles and New York openings: 21 December 1951
Production Date:
early October--mid December 1950
Copyright Claimant:
Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp.
Copyright Date:
20 December 1951
Copyright Number:
LP1512
Physical Properties:
Sound
Western Electric Recording
Black and White
Duration(in mins):
119-120
Length(in feet):
10,754
Length(in reels):
12
Countries:
Germany, United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
14920
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

On 8 Dec 1944, Lt. Dick Rennick of the U.S. Army is being driven to his new assignment with an intelligence division in Armentières, France, near the German front, when his driver gets lost. As the Americans consult a map, two German soldiers, also lost, surrender to them. The Germans, Corp. Karl Maurer and Sgt. Paul Richter, thank Rennick for his kindness when he leaves them at a P.O.W. camp before joining his unit. At the convent where the intelligence division operates, Rennick then meets Col. Devlin, who explains that their mission is to train German P.O.W.s to spy on German military operations. Rennick is dubious, but Devlin, who insists that only volunteers will be used, believes that the plan will help the U.S. to end the war. At the P.O.W. camp Rennick had visited earlier, the officers interview candidates, including Sgt. Rudolf Barth, a cynic who has more faith in a paycheck than in politics. That night, Richter is murdered by prisoners angered by his negative statements about Germany. Disgusted with the Nazis and the futility of the war, Karl becomes one of Devlin's volunteers, even though it will mean becoming a traitor to fellow Germans. Karl explains to the Americans his belief that fighting against his people will be fighting for them. Despite Rennick's unease over Karl's sensitive nature, he is accepted and given the code name "Happy." Barth, who is called "Tiger," also undergoes the rigorous training, but the Americans grow suspicious when, during his first mission, his partner disappears. Devlin receives a report that confirms Tiger's explanation of the incident, however, and he is chosen to accompany ... +


On 8 Dec 1944, Lt. Dick Rennick of the U.S. Army is being driven to his new assignment with an intelligence division in Armentières, France, near the German front, when his driver gets lost. As the Americans consult a map, two German soldiers, also lost, surrender to them. The Germans, Corp. Karl Maurer and Sgt. Paul Richter, thank Rennick for his kindness when he leaves them at a P.O.W. camp before joining his unit. At the convent where the intelligence division operates, Rennick then meets Col. Devlin, who explains that their mission is to train German P.O.W.s to spy on German military operations. Rennick is dubious, but Devlin, who insists that only volunteers will be used, believes that the plan will help the U.S. to end the war. At the P.O.W. camp Rennick had visited earlier, the officers interview candidates, including Sgt. Rudolf Barth, a cynic who has more faith in a paycheck than in politics. That night, Richter is murdered by prisoners angered by his negative statements about Germany. Disgusted with the Nazis and the futility of the war, Karl becomes one of Devlin's volunteers, even though it will mean becoming a traitor to fellow Germans. Karl explains to the Americans his belief that fighting against his people will be fighting for them. Despite Rennick's unease over Karl's sensitive nature, he is accepted and given the code name "Happy." Barth, who is called "Tiger," also undergoes the rigorous training, but the Americans grow suspicious when, during his first mission, his partner disappears. Devlin receives a report that confirms Tiger's explanation of the incident, however, and he is chosen to accompany Rennick on a mission to Mannheim, where they are to establish a radio liaison to an important German general who wants to surrender. Happy is chosen to discover the location of the 11th Panzer Corps, which could reinforce the general's troops and make the surrender difficult. As the trio prepares to parachute behind enemy lines, Happy overhears Tiger and Rennick discuss the location of the safe house in Mannheim, and they then split up. Stating that he was on medical leave and is trying to rejoin his unit, Happy passes through a check point and takes a bus to Munich, then boards a train bound for Nuremberg. Also on board is a friendly soldier, Heinz Scholtz, who is curious about Happy's supply of banknotes. Upon reaching Nuremberg, Happy makes inquiries and learns that he has just missed the Panzer Corps. As Happy encounters difficulties at another check point, Scholtz offers him a ride and whisks him away from his questioners. That night, Scholtz obtains rooms for them at an inn, where a nervous Happy, who has just heard a radio report about a parachutist spy, dances with Hilde to avoid Scholtz. Hilde, a dispirited "hostess" who follows the military from camp to camp, tries to spark a relationship with Happy, and bitterly tells him about her sad life when he rejects her. The next morning, the regretful Hilde warns Happy that Scholtz, who is an S.S. officer, is watching him. Happy sits with Hilde on a truck bound for the next town, but the truck is stopped to "recruit" the men for a nearby regiment. With time running out before he is to return to the Americans, Happy is ordered to serve as the medic for ailing Oberst von Ecker. That night, Happy saves von Ecker's life through quick medical attention, and in the morning, learns the location of the Panzer Corps. Desiring to reward the young soldier, von Ecker accedes to his wish to go to the front and releases him. On the way to Heidelberg, Happy and the other men aboard the transport are forced to disembark, and as they are walking, an American air strike begins. During the confusion, Corp. Ernst, an S.S. man alerted to Happy's presence by Scholtz, tries to kill Happy, but Happy shoots him first. Searching Ernst's belongings, Happy realizes that his name is on the dreaded security list, and that he is in danger. Knowing that he cannot reach his rendezvous point in time, Happy travels to Mannheim to give his valuable information to Rennick. Happy reaches the safe house, but Rennick informs him that their radio is damaged, so they cannot relay his information. The men are then contacted by a German soldier, who states that Gen. Jaeger, the officer attempting the surrender, has been placed under S.S. guard and cannot carry through with the plan. Realizing that the entire scheme was a trap, Rennick tells Happy and Tiger that they must return to Armentières, which entails swimming across the Rhine. They go to the apartment of Tiger's sister-in-law, which has a view of the river, but their presence is revealed by Tiger's nephew, a Hitler youth. The men are chased by soldiers, but when the boy comes face to face with the hiding Rennick, he cannot betray him again and breaks down in tears. Believing that the boy was pulling a prank, the soldiers leave, and the men reach the river bank. There, Tiger attempts to flee, and Rennick is forced to shoot him. Rennick and Happy are shot at by pursuing soldiers as they dive into the water, but they make it to an island midway through the river. Happy, who has been disabled by a cramp, knows that he cannot continue, and distracts the soldiers on the island so that Rennick can escape. Happy is captured, while Rennick reaches headquarters and relays Happy's information. Rennick's compatriots tell him to forget about Happy, who will be shot as a traitor, but as he leaves, Rennick ponders Happy's sacrifice, and promises that he will live on in his memory. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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